Benjamin Issac Weyl '07
9:30 a.m. Sunday, May 20, 2007
First, I want to thank you for giving me the opportunity to deliver this speech. I am honored to do so. The late Kurt Vonnegut said, "What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured." I think all of us have been quite daring these last four years. Together, we've built such a community.
What's funny is that I feel a strong connection to all of you even though I probably don't know every Grinnellian seated here today. I doubt anyone does. Back home, my friends who go to larger schools always say, "So you must know EVERYONE at Grinnell, right?" But, "No," I tell them, "I don't." That's because we all form smaller circles within our community at Grinnell, and they don't always intersect. We hang out with people who share the same major or live on our floor, or have the same interest in music or politics. Friendships have blossomed and social groups have formed, and so after four years, we may not have gotten to know everyone in the Class of 2007.
But tomorrow, seniors from North, South, East, and off-campus will migrate to the center as one. Indeed, a common bond exists between us all. That's because together, we have forged a lasting community. We have become Grinnellians. It's an identity that we share, an identity that includes a sense of responsibility to each other, to our college and to the larger world in which we live. To be a Grinnellian means more than meeting the challenges of papers and exams. It's more than the idea of self-governance, whose existence we can debate endlessly. It's about the people that are here, and the community we have built.
A community is most tested and most vital when it comes together during the toughest of times. JR Ewins, a fellow member of the class of 2007, should be walking across the stage tomorrow to receive his diploma, but he won't. He died tragically in a car accident two years ago. And though he is no longer with us, he has not been forgotten. It's a superficial measure, I know, but just yesterday he was still getting planlove from nearly 40 Grinnellians, and I think that means something. This year, Grinnell experienced heart break once again with the death of second-year student Paul Shuman-Moore. The outpouring of support during the difficult months of uncertainty was a powerful statement of the kind of community we have created together. On such a small campus like Grinnell's, these tragedies touch everyone. They make us question some of our longest held beliefs. They also reveal the strength and compassion we possess and our ability to care for and be there for each other when it really matters.
It's the people that make this community what it is. It's our friends and the memories we've made together that are the building blocks-the amino acids for you Bio majors-of the Grinnell community. When I began to look back on the past four years, certain moments surfacedâ¦ playing kick ball on Cleveland Beach or watching Terminator 2 with friends, getting decked out in our parents' clothes for Disco or reaching the Forum at midnight on 10-10 to celebrate campus unity. These are memories that will last.
I'd like to share one personal Grinnell memory that I particularly treasure. It happened about halfway through first semester our sophomore year. Summer was quickly turning into fall. A bunch of my friends had been talking about going camping, and if it were to happen, it would have to happen soon. One of our friends suggested camping at a park called the Jacob Krumm Nature Preserve a few miles from campus. He was on the cross-country team and said it was a pretty place where the team ran. We agreed.
That evening, about a dozen of us piled into cars and drove out to The Krumm as we would call it afterwards. After a few hours we had grilled some burgers and had a few beers. We sang songs and jibber-jabbered the night away. By 3 a.m., most of us had gone to sleep, myself included. That's when my friends saw headlights shine into the area; it was a police car. Now, let me say, I had been a little nervous about this adventure the whole time. I'm kind of the worry-wart of the group. But in the end, I figured I should either quit worrying and enjoy myself or go home, so I stayed.
A man in a uniform approached the group; he had on a star-it was the sheriff no less. "Um, what's going on here?" he asked, a bit incredulous of the scattered tents and beer cans. My friends kept their cool. "Oh, it's okay officer," one said. "We're with the cross-country team." Now, I don't know if the sheriff believed him or not, but as the story goes, he simply told my friend to get the place cleaned up and to leave in the morning. And that's what we did.
Now maybe you've never been interrogated by the sheriff at The Krumm at 3 a.m. But you've done something like it during your time here. You've done something a little wacky or harebrained with your friends and are grateful now that you didn't let "good sense" stop you. You would have missed out on the best memories, the times spent with friends that you'll never forget. This is what Grinnell has given us.
Given the nature of such a place, it should come as little surprise that so many Grinnellians find their future spouse or partner here. I've heard upwards of 50 percent do so. And though that seems a bit high, I can't be a complete skeptic, considering I'm proof of that statistic: both my parents are Grinnell alums and I know countless others whose parents are Grinnellians. We talk about this phenomenon infrequently; it's mostly a joke on campus, something that we hear during NSO, speak of awkwardly with our crushes, and enjoy telling nervous prospies. But that doesn't take away from the statistic's veracity.
I think one of the reasons so many Grinnellians find each other is because we have a set of shared experiences. We are coming from the same place-literally and figuratively. We share a common value system: a belief in fairness, in friendship and community; in hard work and lifelong learning; and as trite as this may sound, a commitment to make the world a better place, even when we're not sure how to make that happen. These values don't leave us as we graduate from Grinnell, and neither does our membership in this community. No matter how far we go or what happens, we are and always will be Grinnellians. The friendships born here four years ago don't end here tomorrow. We take them with us. We take this community with us. Sure, there are friends we may lose touch with, people who may fade from our lives. But our amazing experiences and the memories we created together will be with us forever. They have shaped who we are today. And besides, with Facebook, it will be easier than ever to reconnect with people.
We're about to head off into many different directions. Let us keep the Grinnell value system close to our hearts and let us create new communities and find cures to the terrible disease of loneliness. Let's remember what it means to be a Grinnellian and to be a part of this community tomorrow, next week, and always. Never stop caring for those around you and never stop believing in and fighting for a better world; it's our obligation as Grinnellians. Thank you and best of luck to you all.